Donald Trump has approved a plan to impose punishing tariffs on tens of billions of dollars of Chinese goods as early as Friday.
The move could put his trade policies on a collision course with his push to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons.
The US president has long vowed to fulfil his campaign pledge to clamp down on what he considers unfair Chinese trading practices, but his calls for billions in tariffs could complicate his efforts to maintain China’s support in his negotiations with North Korea.
Mr Trump met several cabinet members and trade advisers and is expected to impose tariffs on at least 35 billion to 40 billion dollars (£26 billion to £30 billion) of Chinese imports, according to an industry official and an administration official.
The amount of goods could reach 55 billion dollars (£42 billion), said the industry official.
If the president presses forward as expected, it could set the stage for a series of trade actions against China and lead to retaliation from Beijing.
Mr Trump has already slapped tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from Canada, Mexico and European allies, and his proposed tariffs against China risk starting a trade war involving the world’s two biggest economies.
The decision on the Chinese tariffs comes after Mr Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
In his press conference in Singapore on Tuesday, he said the US has a “tremendous deficit in trade with China and we have to do something about it. We can’t continue to let that happen”.
The US trade deficit with China was 336 billion dollars (£253 billion) in 2017.
Administration officials have signalled support for imposing the tariffs in a dispute over allegations that Beijing steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology, according to officials.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing’s response would be immediate and it would “take necessary measures to defend our legitimate rights and interests”.
Mr Geng gave no details but said the foreign and commerce ministries had made formal responses to earlier US statements.
Beijing has drawn up a list of 50 billion dollars (£38 billion) in US products that would face retaliatory tariffs, including beef and soybeans — a shot at Mr Trump’s supporters in rural America.
“I stressed how important it is for President Trump to rectify that situation so that trade becomes more balanced, more reciprocal and more fair, with the opportunity to have American workers be treated fairly,” Mr Pompeo said during a joint news conference with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi.